Archived Posts April 2006 - Page 4 of 4 | Acton PowerBlog

As student demonstrations in France mount, the government finds it increasingly difficult to dismantle restrictive labor laws that are directly tied to high unemployment rates. Michael Miller examines the political and cultural factors that are behind the French fear of economic risk taking.

Read the complete commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Large numbers of migrant populations going out of a particular area or nation should be viewed in large part as a signal of something. There are reasons for people to pick up and move, and policy and governing bodies would do well to examine these reasons.

When business close facilities and open elsewhere, it is usually because the destination location has a better economic and business-friendly environment. So the natural course of action when examining this phenomena is to ask what is it about the place that these businesses are leaving that makes it inhospitable? Michigan’s single-business tax is a great example of a contributing factor on a statewide scale.

Similar analytical methods should be applied to the question of individual or personal immigration. There is a reason that so many residents of the country of Mexico want to leave: there is better opportunity for flourishing in the United States. In particular, the primary motivation for many immigrants is economic opportunity, but the yearning for other sorts of freedoms (religious, political) can be the motivation for immigration as well.

In an article on NRO today, “The Economics of Immigration,” Larry Kudlow makes this same point regarding economic opportunity. He writes, “As long as the American boom beckons, Mexicans in search of prosperity will continue to stream to this country.” The movement of people from Mexico to the United States says a lot about immigrants’ opinions regarding the comparative advantage of living in the US.

A long term answer to immigration reform must include the economic reform of Mexico. Mass immigration out of a country is a symptom of poor economic conditions in the originating nation (other freedoms being equal).

Kudlow writes, “Instead of an Asian or Irish Tiger, Mexico has become a poodle-like Chihuahua, with economic growth of less than 2 percent a year and per-capita growth at less than 1 percent. That’s pathetic. In an age when free-market reforms are sweeping emerging economies worldwide, Mexico should be growing at 8 to 10 percent each year.”

If immigration is a symptom of economic disease, the cure is development, prosperity, and stability in Mexico. And on that score, investment in the manufacturing sector in Mexico, as in the case of outsourcing, is a good thing.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

A former editor at First Things, Damon Linker, has written a piece for The New Republic, which attacks, among others, his former boss, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Linker claims that Neuhaus is a “theocon,” who wants to merge religious authority and political power.

Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice has all the details, including links to blog discussions and his previous post, criticizing Linker’s argument.

I’ve read First Things for years and, in my judgment, the truth lies with Linker’s critics.

Following up on yesterday’s entry about Ronald Aronson’s call for a renewed socialism in American politics, I offer this paragraph from J. Budziszewski’s book, What We Can’t Not Know.

Discussing the principle of subsidiarity as first explicitly articulated by Pius XI in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Budziszewski writes,

As Pius explained, what pushed the principle of subsidiarity to the forefront was the crisis in civil society brought about by the industrial revolution. For a time it seemed as though the middle rungs of the ladder might be crippled or destroyed, leaving nothing but the vaunting state at the top of the social scale and the solitary self at the bottom. Collectivists and individualists made strange alliance to cheer this holocaust of the little platoons. The principle of subsidiarity reaffirms the social design of the species, corrects both its individualist denial and its collectivist perversion, and champions the rights and dignity of all those in-between associations which, if only allowed, will take root and flourish, filling the valley between State and Self with fruit and color.

Well, maybe not you personally. But in his speech to the Texas Academy of Science in March, University of Texas Professor Eric Pianka did announce his hope that a mutated Ebola virus would wipe out ninety percent of the human population–soon.

His motives are, of course, the essence of nobility. We’ve bred like rabbits, you see, and drastic measures are needed to restore the balance.

Amateur scientist Forrest Mims broke the story in his column for The Amateur Scientist. (Full disclosure: Mims is a friend.) Drudge picked up the story over the weekend, so it’s now grown legs. I expect Pianka will soon receive one of those ritual denunciations that certain public university professors receive when their more philosophically consistent conclusions leak out. What is especially troubling, however, is not that some eccentric scientist said something crazy. What is troubling is that he received a standing ovation from hundreds of members of the Texas Academy of Science, who were in attendance.

This is no April Fools’ Joke. In fact, Bianka already has at least one new convert.

I ran across some of these tidbits over recent months that I thought worth passing along, and it’s a fitting time to do so at noon, typically the lunch hour. The first two are taken from an article by Martin J. Heinecken, “Kierkegaard as Christian,” Journal of Religion 37, no. 1 (Jan. 1957): 20–30. Heinecken was a professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

He writes of Kierkegaard’s critical project against the state church of Denmark:

To be sure, he insisted that the true Christian must sooner or later in a hostile world suffer for the sake of the Lord. This is precisely what he found wrong with the Christianity of his day when everyone was a Christian as a matter of course, viz., that it required no suffering. Something was topsy-turvy when it required more inconvenience not to be a Christian than to be one (28).

A bit earlier Heinecken passed on a colorful anecdote that describes the nature of Christian suffering:

This suffering of the Christian is therefore by no means to be equated with the chance misfortunes of life that fall upon the just and the unjust. I shall not soon forget the Australian divine who gorged himself on good, old, solid, Australian beef, garnished with a few thick slices of mutton, plus all the assorted vegetables in season, and then finished this off with some concoction, euphemistically called “trifle,” which, as nearly as I could figure out, consisted of a considerable base of rich pastry topped with thick, syrupy fruit of various kinds—apples, peaches, pears, dates, nuts, etc.—and then was smothered in a thick covering of pure cream, not whipped into a froth like our insipid “Dairy Maid” concoctions, but the solid stuff, straight from the cow with all the air and water taken out and nothing left but the cream. This concoction is served on top of the meal in a sort of soup tureen and is eaten, not with a dainty little dessert spoon, but is literally “shoveled in” with the aid of two utensils, the soup spoon on the left hand and the fork serving as a sort of hay loader on the right. So this German-Australian divine, after a long communion service, after which he heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Nun is die ganze Herde wieder einmal gefüttert und getränkt” (“Now the whole herd has been once again fed and watered”), sat down and devoured the above-described little meal—just a token really of what a real man would do, for, after all, a parson is only half a man. There he sits now after the meal, all bloated with gas, and more and more he is convulsed in the most excruciating agony, more acute even than that of childbirth; he says, “Dies is mein Kreuz, dass der Herr mir aufgelegt had, das ich willig tragen muss” (“This is the cross the Lord has laid upon me which I must bear patiently”). This most certainly is not the suffering Kierkegaard had in mind (27).

And in connection with that striking portrait, here’s Kierkegaard’s description of his philosophical project, as appears through the person of Johannes Climacus in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript:

When a man has filled his mouth so full of food that for this reason he cannot eat and it must end with his dying of hunger, does communicating food to him consist in stuffing his mouth even more or, instead, in taking away a little so that he can eat? Similarly, when a man is very knowledgeable but his knowledge is meaningless or virtually meaningless to him, does sensible communication consist in giving him more to know, even if he loudly proclaims that this is what he needs, or does it consist, instead, in taking something away from him? When a communicator takes a portion of the copious knowledge that the very knowledgeable man knows and communicates it to him in a form that makes it strange to him, the communicated is, as it were, taking away his knowledge, at least until the knower manages to assimilate the knowledge by overcoming the resistance of the form.

I’ll pass along my provisional conclusion regarding the philosophy of Kierkegaard. Heinecken notes the observation of an anonymous German divine on Kierkegaard: “He is all right when you need a laxative, but not when you need good solid, nourishing food” (24).

But taking Kierkegaard’s own image of having a mouth full of food a bit further, his anti-Hegelian program could also be characterized as a sort of emetic philosophy: perfect for the expulsion of dangerous elements, and necessary perhaps in particular contexts as preparation for healthy intake. But it should not be confused with either milk or solid food itself (see 1 Cor. 3:2).

As is so often the case with reactive intellectual movements, Kierkegaard’s philosophy in his Philosophical Fragments is not immune to overcompensation. So while we might appreciate Kierkegaard’s motive and the extent of his success in undermining the Hegelian philosophical program, we should also exercise a measure of caution with respect to the agreeability of his philosophy with Christian theology.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, April 3, 2006

Ronald Aronson argues that the political left in America needs to get back to its true socialist roots in order to become a coherent and clear alternative in this article from The Nation, “The Left Needs More Socialism.”

He points to contemporary political movements in other countries as models for success of the American left:

But Americans need only glance around the world to see that there are alternatives. The vibrant World Social Forums are an example, under way since 2001 and now envisioning several annual meetings of an immense variety of groups, organizations and networks. Another is the continuing leftward movement of South American governments, now adding Bolivia to Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil. A third is the continuing European efforts to defend social welfare programs, as evidenced in the German Social Democrats’ remarkable reversal of a slide into oblivion to tie the Christian Democratic Party in last September’s election, and the unflagging popular support for Britain’s National Health Service.

Aronson even goes so far to cite September 11 and Hurricane Katrina as instances that support the need for socialism. In his words, “September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed the undying need for extensive and intensive structures of community. The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism’s values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.”

So here we see that socialism is committed to all things praiseworthy (fairness, democracy, equality, justice) while capitalism is committed to all things base (privilege, power, inequality). And Aronson dares to say that it is Marxism that is caricatured.

Aronson’s basic problem is that he has a fundamental bifurcation of the world into two groups: individuals and governments. So when he says that we need “extensive and intensive structures of community,” he really means we need more government (if it has any bearing on this discussion, Hurricane Katrina shows the basic ineffectiveness of statist solutions and is evidence in favor of a free, vigorous, and private civil society).

We can see that this is the case when Aronson writes, “Twenty-five years of attacking government has drained much of the basic civic spirit and social responsibility we must have to transact our collective business with integrity. If nothing is higher than the individual, the only thing that matters is whether I alone succeed.” Indeed the common good and society may be “higher than the individual,” but from this it does not follow that government is the only entity that fits that description.

Aronson’s caricature of capitalism does little to clarify the real disagreement. He makes the classic mistake of demonizing his opposition’s intentions and motives, rather than giving an honest and fair-minded analysis.

The disagreement isn’t whether or not all people have value, whether community is a good thing, or whether individuals have responsibilities beyond themselves. It seems to me that the real disagreement is about means. Aronson’s statism finds government to be the primary, if not sole, agent in meeting these responsibilities.